Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Broken Bonds: Are Black Greek Organizations Making Themselves Irrelevant?

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Broken Bonds: Are Black Greek Organizations Making Themselves Irrelevant?

Article excerpt

IT IS RARE THAT ONE FINDS A VENUE TO ADVANCE BALANCED, YET CRITICAL, DEBATE OVER Black Greek Letter Organizations, or BGLOs. BGLO members, on average, seem unwilling to seriously raise and discuss issues like hazing, non-Black membership or class-elitism, and non-members seem largely indifferent or overly critical.

As of December 2006, these organizations, collectively, are now 100 years old. With the recent hazing cases, the passage of Florida's "Chad Meredith Act" that made hazing a felony, the "unauthorized histories" of various BGLOs via Walter "Big Walt" Anderson and the release of a new movie ("Stomp the Yard," 2007) that further commoditizes (and prostitutes) BGLO culture, it is time to ask how these organizations are to remain relevant in the 21st century.

The founding impetus for BGLOs is intertwined with literary societies, White fraternities and sororities, Black benevolent and secret societies, the Black church, Black World War I veterans and the burgeoning "New Negro" ethos of the Harlem Renaissance that combined to provide a spirit of intellectualism, brotherhood, racial uplift, spiritual foundations, discipline and racial consciousness. Their history speaks of fidelity to the overarching principles that they collectively set forth. For instance, research shows that, when compared to Blacks who are not BGLO members, BGLO members have higher levels of leadership and philanthropic involvement on campus.

To many, this distinguished history is becoming ancient history. Student affairs personnel, BGLO members and their supporters are concerned not about the past but about the contemporary state of affairs. Many also understand that the contemporary moment will determine their future, and frankly, that future looks bleak. It should be no surprise when, within the next 10 to 20 years, at least one of the BGLOs within the National Pan-Hellenic Council (otherwise known as the "Divine Nine") ceases to exist. Furthermore, we suspect, a number of those that remain will cease to be relevant. The signs of the time suggest that at least the latter is happening.

To be relevant and viable in the 21st century, BGLOs must grapple with a number of external and internal issues. Externally, BGLOs must address how others come to understand them. Popular culture's representations of BGLOs revolve around a very limited set of themes--stepping and hazing. This is a far cry from the broader elements upon which these organizations were founded. In addition to this public perception problem, BGLOs have also failed to adapt to the changing nature of gender and racial discrimination. …

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